Florida Gators: Chris Wilkes

Gators fall camp preview

July, 31, 2013
Ronald PowellJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesAfter missing all of the 2012 season with a torn ACL, Ronald Powell is ready to return to the Gators. He was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2010 ESPN 150.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida begins August camp on Friday. Here’s a primer to get you ready:

Three questions the Gators must answer in camp

Can the receivers contribute? It must sound like a broken record, but the development of the receivers is the key to the season. They haven’t been very good for the past three seasons, and that really hurt the Gators in 2012 because of quarterback Jeff Driskel’s inexperience. H-back/wildcat QB Trey Burton, with 69 career catches, will line up at receiver. That will help, but he’s not a downfield threat or someone that scares a secondary. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar and sophomores Raphael Andrades and Latroy Pittman must become consistent with their routes, adjustments and blitz reads. At least two of the five freshmen -- including early enrollee Demarcus Robinson -- have to become significant parts of the rotation, too. New receivers coach Joker Phillips, who has 18 years of experience and two former pupils in the NFL (Randall Cobb and Steve Johnson), should make a difference. But remember, a chef is only as good as his ingredients.

Can the linebackers hold up their end? The Gators are loaded in the secondary and with pass rushers, and the defensive line should be fine. The question mark on defense is at linebacker, especially with starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison suspended for the first two games. There’s little doubt that Morrison is going to be a big-time player, but there are questions at every other spot. Buck/strongside linebacker Ronald Powell is coming back from a torn ACL and the top two candidates at weakside linebacker (Darrin Kitchens and Michael Taylor) have been role players throughout their careers. Taylor will likely start in the middle while Morrison is out. That’s a steep drop-off from Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, and the Gators need to find playmakers. Don’t be surprised if freshman Daniel McMillian takes over as the starter on the weak side by the middle of the season.

Will either kicker turn out to be reliable? It’s unfair to expect Austin Hardin or Brad Phillips to have the same kind of impact as Caleb Sturgis. He was the best kicker in school history and was accurate from long range. But it isn’t unreasonable to ask either of those guys to be consistent in the 40-yard range, and neither was during spring practice. It’s a battle that will continue throughout camp -- and possibly into the season. Sturgis consistently bailed out the offense in 2012, and the Gators won’t have that luxury if the offense struggles again (see receivers above).

Three position battles to watch

[+] EnlargeTyler Moore
Brad Barr/US PresswireTyler Moore made four starts on the offensive line at Nebraska as a true freshman. He is battling Chaz Green to be the Gators' right tackle.
Right tackle: Chaz Green, who has started 18 games in his career and 10 last season, sat out spring practice after undergoing offseason ankle surgery. Tyler Moore, a Nebraska transfer, took all the first-team reps and heads into camp with a slight lead. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Moore has 10 pounds on Green, which isn’t a big deal. What is, however, is the fact that Green has missed six games over the past two seasons because of injuries. The loser of the battle will still get a lot of playing time in the Gators’ jumbo package.

Tight end: Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor are competing for playing time. The group struggled during the spring and Burton has a slim lead. Thompson was more of a blocker in high school, but his size makes him an intriguing option in the middle of the field and the red zone. He’s a better blocker than any of the other tight ends and could win the job if he can show some consistency and prove he’s a reliable receiver. Westbrook is more of a blocker and Taylor is a flex tight end with potential, but the coaching staff isn’t happy with his toughness. There’s not a lot of experience here -- they’ve combined for four catches for 17 yards in their careers -- and it’s unlikely any can be the weapon in the passing game that Jordan Reed was the past two seasons (73 catches, 866 yards, 5 TDs).

Safety: If the season started today, cornerbacks Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs would be the starters. That’s not a bad thing because both are solid players who understand the defense and won’t give up big plays. But what is a concern is that none of the other safeties showed enough consistency in the spring to earn one of the spots. Marcus Maye, Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers have four weeks to prove they can get the job done.

Three players you might not have thought to watch in camp, but really should

Bryan Cox: A redshirt freshman defensive end, he showed flashes of potential in the spring and made a few plays during the final scrimmage. He’s playing behind Jonathan Bullard, so he gets overlooked, but he’s got good size (6-foot-3, 260 pounds) and athleticism and could be a breakout player on defense.

Gideon Ajagbe: Hunter Joyer was the only fullback on the roster until the staff moved Ajagbe and redshirt freshman safety Rhaheim Ledbetter there in the spring because the staff was worried about overworking Joyer during the season. Ajagbe adjusted well and should give Joyer some valuable rest and therefore reduce his risk of injury.

Chris Wilkes: It was obvious that the staff wasn’t happy with backup quarterbacks Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg, which was one of the reasons UF added Wilkes. He was an Ole Miss signee in 2008 but instead chose to sign a baseball contract with the San Diego Padres. Wilkes enrolled in May and missed spring practice and hasn’t played football in five years, but he’s a former pro athlete and should at least push Mornhinweg and Murphy a bit.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The two-week time frame that Florida coach Will Muschamp said quarterback Jeff Driskel could be out after undergoing an appendectomy might seem ambitious, but football players have returned from the surgery in that period before.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent an appendectomy just before the 2006 season began and missed only one game. He had surgery on Sept. 3, four days before the Steelers' season opener on a Thursday night, and played in the second game of the season on Sept. 18. Former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel played 11 days after having his appendix removed in 2010.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Stephen M. Dowell/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel's appendectomy isn't the end of the world for the Gators, though he'll likely miss two weeks of practice time.
Driskel's situation is different because he'll only be missing the first two weeks of preseason practices instead of games, so there's no need for him to rush back to the field. He is already entrenched as the starter and is in his second season under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, so he's completely familiar with the offense.

Muschamp said the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Driskel has improved his footwork, comfort in the pocket, and ability to recognize the need to change pass protection schemes. Those were the three areas in which Driskel needed the most improvement after his first season as the Gators' starter. He's been able to get better in those areas because he has essentially gotten twice the practice time and reps because he is no longer splitting reps while competing with Jacoby Brissett for the starting job.

However, missing two weeks will set him and the offense back a bit. The issue will be the chemistry he needs to develop with the receivers, especially four of the five incoming freshmen. Demarcus Robinson enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. The Gators' passing offense ranked 114th nationally last season, and getting better receiver play is the biggest key to the unit's improvement in 2013.

Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg will likely split the first-team reps. Driskel's surgery highlights just how important it is for him to stay healthy this season. Murphy and Mornhinweg struggled during spring practice and neither is really an adequate option to replace Driskel should he be out for any significant length of time during the season.

The Gators do have four other quarterbacks on the roster: walk-ons Ryan McGriff, Jacob Guy and Chris Wilkes and incoming freshman Max Staver. UF is planning on redshirting Staver. Wilkes is intriguing because he's a 23-year-old former professional baseball player who chose to sign with the San Diego Padres after signing with Ole Miss in 2008. He enrolled in May and has little experience in the offense, but he at least has appeared in pressure-packed environments.

If Driskel is able to return after two weeks, which would roughly be Aug. 14, he would still have 18 days to prepare for Florida's season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31.

Gator Breakdown: Jeff Driskel 

May, 30, 2013
During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Quinton Dunbar, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.

No. 6 Jeff Driskel
Junior quarterback

Week in review: Spring wrapup

April, 13, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida wrapped up spring practice with a scrimmage, er, open practice and GatorNation provided extensive coverage of the practice as well as throughout the week.

One of the most significant bits of news to come out of the final practice was the fact that running back Matt Jones carried the ball only once because he had been so good throughout the spring that he had clearly won the starting job.

Here are some other observations from last Saturday’s open practice.

There were some surprises that came out of spring practice, too. The Gators also left spring with several pressing issues that must be solved before the season begins.

In other football news, defensive line coach Bryant Young resigned on Thursday because of personal reasons. Young was assisting Brad Lawing along the defensive line so the Gators could hire a special teams coordinator to take his place on staff.

On the recruiting trail ...

The Gators had a big recruiting weekend, which started when they picked up a commitment from ESPN Watch List running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) after the final spring practice. UF also picked up a quarterback when former professional baseball player Chris Wilkes, a 2008 Ole Miss commit, told UF coach Will Muschamp he planned on enrolling in May. Wilkes, who had been playing in the San Diego Padres system, will compete with Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg and Max Staver for the backup spot to starter Jeff Driskel.

GatorNation's Derek Tyson provided a list of key recruiting dates, which includes Friday Night Lights being tentatively scheduled for July 26. He also answers your questions in a recruiting mailbag.

The Gators are also after another Matt Elam -- this time it's a defensive tackle from Elizabethtown (Ky.) John Hardin.

For you hoops recruiting fans, Dave Telep and Paul Biancardi break down the SEC recruiting classes.

Gators enjoy big recruiting weekend 

April, 8, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Despite not having a complete spring football game, the Florida Gators managed to have a very successful recruiting weekend.

ESPN Watch List running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) became Florida's ninth verbal commitment on Saturday, as the 5-foot-11, 195-pound athlete switched his pledge from Clemson to Florida.

The switch came as a surprise, though. Earlier in the day Cook stated that Florida had pulled into a tie with Clemson, but after talking it over with his family, the speedy back decided to pull the trigger.

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GAINSVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp said Saturday that he has nothing further to add his previous denial of allegations that he gave money to a player while he was the defensive coordinator at Auburn.

In a story that alleges a culture of rule breaking, drug use, and other issues at Auburn that was posted on the web site Roopstigo.com, former Tigers safety Mike McNeil said Muschamp gave him $400 after he had a bad practice in 2007. Muschamp denied the charges in the story written by former Sports Illustrated and New York Times writer Selena Roberts.

He was more emphatic about his denial when he made his first public appearance since the story broke last Wednesday.

"I’ve already responded to that and really there’s nothing to dignify any other response other than exactly what you read," Muschamp said. "Exactly what you read."

Muschamp was not quoted in the story. He denied the allegations through a school spokesman.

UF picks up a QB

The Gators added some help at quarterback on Saturday when former professional baseball player Chris Wilkes told Muschamp that he would be attending UF.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Wilkes said via text message that he plans on enrolling in May. He will not be on scholarship.

The 23-year-old Wilkes signed with Ole Miss in 2008 out of Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips, but instead chose to sign a contract with the San Diego Padres. Wilkes, who was a 22nd-round draft pick, never advanced past the Double-A level. He went 16-13 with a 3.57 ERA in five seasons as a right-handed pitcher.

The Gators will have six quarterbacks on the roster in the fall. Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg and Max Staver will be on scholarship. Wilkes and Jacob Guy will be walk-ons. Wilkes is expected to compete with Murphy and Mornhinweg to back up Driskel. Staver is likely headed for a redshirt.


McElwain discusses new Florida football
SEC Network's Greg McElory and Booger McFarland sit down to discuss the future of Florida football with head coach Jim McElwain.